Oliver Johnson/ Class 4: Life Management Skills

by Oliver Johnson

105. How would you define your life management skills?

Bear with me while I delve into what this question is asking first.  Searching The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition, the most authoritative dictionary our prison library has, I read the definitions of each of the three words comprising the above question topic.  Now, I am prepared to respond.

Life management skills?  The first word “life” is defined as “the physical, mental and spiritual experiences that constitute existence.” “The artistic life of a writer” is given as an example.  (My aspiration!) How coincidental?

Further, “life” is defined as “the interval of time between one’s birth and death,” as in “She led a good, long life,” like my “Mama Mae,” my grandmother, who at 91 is probably Mississippi’s oldest licensed funeral director and still could be a beauty queen.  Her story is an amazing one!  Among other definitions given, “life” also means “continuing for a lifetime; life-long; life partner;” and of course, as said in every English speaking country, “life” means “life imprisonment.” So even for “lifers,” the topic here appears relevant.  Life management skills.

The second word “management” is defined as “the act manner, or practice of managing; handling; supervision, or control,” and thirdly, “skill” – “the proficiency, facility or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience,” as in one’s “writing skills,” which as a matter of my life, I strive to improve upon daily.  I wonder, is karma speaking to me through this dictionary?

Applying the foregoing definitions to my present situation, I therefore define life management skills as the daily life-long physical, mental and spiritual acts I must perform to acquire the level of achievement necessary for me to realize and manage a values-based, purpose driven, existence in this world.

106. What types of decisions influence how you will emerge from prison?

Incrementally, every decision I make influences how I will emerge from prison.  As I am determined to live a values-based, purpose driven life, my decisions must reflect my values.

Previously I stated in answering Question 59, “the values I live by fall into ten value categories: 1) Godliness; 2) family; 3) fitness; 4) self-esteem; 5) character; 6) creativity; 7) ethics; 8) network; 9) volunteer; and 10) legacy.”

To assure my decisions are aligned with these values, I am committed to ten key areas of decision-making, which I focus on daily:  1) To practice the disciplines of prayer, meditation and service to God and others; 2) To love my family and prepare myself to support, nurture and protect each member thereof; 3) To eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly; 4) To love myself as I am and hold fast to my dreams; 5) To use my state of imprisonment to master the discipline of self-control; 6) To write daily; 7) To consider the ethical implications of my every decision, word and deed; 8) To communicate honestly and effectively with my support network thereby creating a foundation for my future success; 9) To encourage and assist other prisoners, as members of the community we share, to live values-based, productive lives; and 10) To remain faithful that my legacy will be defined not by my life’s mistakes, but by the best I have done with my life.

How I manage achievement in these areas of my life begins when I rise each day and directs my strict adherence to a balanced routine thereafter.  Thus, the above decisions, I feel, will allow me to emerge from prison empowered as the man I fervently hope to become.

107. In what ways does your daily schedule determine your potential for success upon release?

“Rome wasn’t built in a day” nor is it possible to quickly build a solid foundation for future success, although many prisoners routinely boast, “when I get out, I’m going to…,” but you never see these same guys working to influence the occurrence of their lofty predictions. So if I were to spend my time idly – by sleeping excessively, watching T.V. every day, jamming to my favorite tunes on a MP3 (if I procrastinated in preparing for release and bought one), and/or wasting my days conversing with other idle prisoners about current conspiracy theories, prison chatter a/k/a (inmate.com), sports, or reality TV shows, etc, any expectation of a high likelihood for success upon release would be tantamount to Gabby Douglas expecting to win an Olympic Gold Medal without practicing. To bring this analogy home and really talk about the relationship between one’s itinerary and success, here are some facts about the value of Gabby’s past daily schedule (performed consistently over a ten year period – from age 6 to 16), resulting in her becoming an Olympic champion, pioneer and instant Celebrity last month. (If a child can stick to a schedule, surely an adult can?) As reported in the Dallas Morning News, Sunday, August 19, 2012, the latest Marketing Arm’s Celebrity DBI numbers, which marketers and agencies rely on to hire celebrities which best fit their brand, show “The 16 year-old gymnast ranks in the Top 10 in the DBI in five attributes – Aspiration, Breakthrough, Endorsement, Influence and Trendsetter – and in the Top 20 in Appeal and Trust. When it comes to people wanting to be like her, she’s on par with Tom Hanks, Bill Gates and Kate Middleton. As for people taking note when she appears on TV, Douglas ranks No. 3.” And to think, this time last year she was merely a hard-working teenager with a dream.

So as I am a prisoner with a dream – of again becoming a law-abiding, productive American citizen, a great father, son and friend, coincidentally my daily schedule of hard work is all I have going for me too, just like Gabby had…, and Michael also, who I am confident will hold his “gold ring” one day soon.

Therefore to prepare for reentry success, I allocate my time wisely, applying myself each day, during my sixteen waking hours, towards building a foundation of good health, wisdom and spirituality prior to my release. In this regard, I am confident my daily dedication to living a Christian life, to eating properly and exercising, expanding my support network, as well as writing, reading, researching and studying subject matter I deem relevant to my life’s work will prepare me to a high degree for success upon release from prison.

108. How do personal relationships influence our prospects for success?

As with any person, in the free-world or imprisoned, one becomes the company he or she keeps. In my opinion, personal relationships influence our prospects for success in significant ways. For example, in prison, there are many good people whom I have met who made a terrible mistake like me, although the whole of their life reflects many accomplishments and primarily a law-abiding past. Many of the men I have become acquainted with express great remorse for their crimes and more importantly for the suffering they have inflicted upon others, especially their family, friends and the victims of their crimes. As well, such men, several of whom are Straight-A-Guide participants, demonstrate daily by their attitudes, efforts and commitment to achievement a strong desire to succeed which encourages me as well.

Therefore, by limiting my associations to fellow prisoners of this ilk, as well as to the exceptional staff members who encourage my reentry success efforts, I am confident my prospects for success are being influenced positively.

109. How can we cultivate and nurture personal relationships that may prove helpful through our prison journey and beyond?

Through networking, correspondence and my participation in the MGSF Straight-A-Guide Program, I am hopeful I will cultivate and nurture personal relationships which may prove helpful throughout the remainder of my imprisonment and beyond. As I continue to demonstrate the level of my commitment and capacity to excel upon release, I expect to attract the support of others who see value in my efforts and talents.

110. In what ways did Michael’s decisions at the beginning of his term lead to the opportunities that opened for him through the decades he served?

The decisions he made at the start of his imprisonment made all the difference in his prison adjustment. When he first was assigned to the penitentiary, he began his sentence 100-percent committed to preparing himself in ways that allowed him to emerge successfully. Michael understood and accepted the fact that he would serve a lengthy sentence. The thought of serving a 45-year sentence was understandably too taxing on him to fathom, so he focused on doing his time in increments, setting goals of various achievements during each phase. Such as thinking about surviving only the first 10 years and what he wanted to achieve within those 10 years. As a result of this approach, this 120-month vision became an aspiration for him, instead of a fantasy. In planning for such time frame, Michael decided to devote his first decade as a prisoner to educating himself. He made decision after decision followed by action which propelled him towards completion of his goal in measurable ways.

With his plan in motion, Michael was sufficiently preoccupied for prison life, totally self-invested, thus avoiding any form of distraction that could potentially threaten his progress. For example, he avoided both inmates who could negatively impact his vision and personal misconduct resulting in disciplinary infractions, which could have clearly stifled his efforts to educate himself.

After completing his first ten years, he did not stop, but pursued or created opportunities which enabled him to continue climbing the ladder of success through the decades ahead. Having significantly increased his level of education, he began to focus on creating opportunities to ease his reentry transition by building a support network and marrying the love of his life, Carol. His achievements were not by chance. His empowerment came about as a direct consequence of clearly-defined goals, and incremental progress day upon day, just as simple as the children’s tale of “The Turtle and the Hare.” Slow and steady wins the race.

111. In what ways have the decisions you made from the day of your arrest influenced your life today?

Unfortunately, I regret that my first years of imprisonment were a melancholic experience to say the least. If only I had the confidence I do now to not focus on my condition of being a prisoner but to realize that I hold the power even still to influence my future success. Since my fortification occurred, via exercising an unconditional faith in what God has in store for my life, I have endeavored to realize measurable goals which I pursue daily and committed myself to turning over a new leaf by living a transparent life via my MGSF Straight-A-Guide participation. As a result, my life today is most fulfilling and promising, I feel. The reason I wake up excited each day to apply myself to the varying tasks necessary to prepare my mind, body and soul for reenter into society.

112. How would you compare and contrast the initial adjustment decisions of two prisoners who offered their profiles?

113. In what ways does your prison adjustment compare or contrast with the individuals profiled?

114. In what ways does your prison adjustment compare or contrast with the type of career trajectory That Greg Reyes or some of the other successful businessmen described?

115. What steps can you take in the time that spans between now and your release date to prepare for a law-abiding, fulfilling life?

116. In what ways are your interactions with others in prison and beyond purposeful?117. How do your interactions with others relate to the individual you aspire to become?

117. How do your interactions with others relate to the individual you aspire to become?

118. What types of activities, interests, and discussions motivate or inspire your closest acquaintances?

119. In what ways will the relationships you cultivate help or hinder your aspirations?

120. If Red had a stable job with opportunities for growth, what do you suppose would have tempted him to revert to crime?

121. In what ways could a prisoner manage his life to persuade prospective employers that he lives by different values from men like Red?

122. How does an individual’s diction influence perceptions?

123. How does an individual’s personal grooming and presentation influence opportunities?

124. With regard to the attitude attribute of the Straight-A Guide, what does it mean to make a 100 percent commitment?

125. How would you assess your acquaintances with regard to the attitude attribute of the Straight-A Guide?

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